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Visualising the history of Great Britain in Union with David Olusoga

How the visual effects team at Lux Aeterna used subtle 3D lighting, dust effects, and precise compositions to establish the new visual style of the BBC Two series

Bristol-based VFX studio Lux Aeterna played a pivotal role in breathing life into the rich history of Great Britain for BBC Studios’ series, Union with David Olusoga.

The four-part historical series delves into the past of the United Kingdom, tracing its roots from the 1600s to the early 1900s.

The team at Lux Aeterna, renowned for their work on Netflix show Our Universe were responsible for all the GFX and motion graphics in the series. Under the leadership of creative director and co-founder Rob Hifle, and with motion graphics lead Joe Hockney, along with their VFX and compositing teams, they embarked on the task of crafting an engaging visual narrative. This included visual elements such as historical archives, maps spanning centuries, and the intricate design of the Union flag.

One of the key challenges faced by Lux Aeterna was managing a vast volume of historical materials and archives. Their mission involved transforming historical documents and low-resolution archive footage into graphics that melded with the overarching narrative. Achieving this required a delicate balance of visual storytelling prowess and technical finesse to elevate the quality of the archive visuals provided by the production team.

Describing their approach, Hockney says, “We employed subtle 3D lighting, dust effects, and precise compositions to complement the aesthetics of the specially filmed footage and synchronise seamlessly with the pacing of the documentary. What made this project unique was our close collaboration with the editing team. Our work often involved longer sequences of shots, the pacing and composition of which found form thanks to that organic process with the edit room. Given the diversity of the archive, we worked to unify the look via artificial camera work and the aforementioned lighting, ultimately weaving together disparate assets into a cohesive whole.”

In terms of technical tools, Lux Aeterna primarily harnessed After Effects for motion graphics, occasionally integrating Cinema 4D and Nuke.

Hifle underscores the importance of their partnership with series producer and director Francis Welch and editor Dilesh Korya in the editing process. “Our collaboration with the editing team was exceptionally close. This relationship has been cultivated over numerous projects with David, and we’ve developed a deep understanding of each other’s workflows. These films are often meticulously crafted over extended periods due to logistical or wider commitments, requiring our adaptability to changing schedules.”

Welch echoes this sentiment, “David and I have worked with Lux Aeterna’s creative director and co-founder Rob Hifle for many years on a number of high-profile films. Rob is a brilliant creative and we always enjoy collaborating together. The challenge with a landmark series is you have to establish a new visual style, this evolved over the course of the production and Rob and the Lux Aeterna team collaborated with us on this journey. As the series evolved during filming and in the edit, the graphics brief also evolved. Lux Aeterna were very flexible and supportive as we collaborated together to establish the right visual style.”

The first episode of Union with David Olusoga is set to air on BBC Two on Monday 2nd October at 9pm, with the entire series available for streaming on BBC iPlayer on the same day.